Starter – Diagnosing Starter Problems – Knowing The Signs

Knowing the signs of a failing starter motor can help you diagnose the problem.

When Diagnosing starter motor problems always start with the battery.

For the starter motor to work make sure that your car battery is in excellent working condition and fully charged.

Starter Motor
Starter Motor

Starter motors are used to rotate an engine to begin the starting process.

For a engine to start, many things need to happen simultaneously and in rapid succession.

For the engine to fire, one of the most important factors is turning of the flywheel.

When the ignition key is turned a low amperage electrical signal is sent to the anti-theft system and computer.

The signal then continues to the starters solenoid which activates the high amperage side of the electrical system.

As a result, engaging the starting motor.

The objective of the starting motor is to rotate the engine between 85 and 150 rpm’s.

Starters are composed of two main parts:

  • The primary motor that turns your crankshaft and starts your engine.
  • The solenoid that simultaneously engages the drive gear and closes the main motor’s electrical contacts.
Starter Motor
Starter Motor

Starting system troubles may be caused by poor maintenance, or just by wear and tear.

Even with decent maintenance, the different system components get a lot of wear during their service life.

 

With more and more vehicles being fitted with stop/start technology the strain on starting motors has been greatly increased.

Over a period of time, the starting motor will eventually runs its course and wear out. The two components inside the starting motor that commonly fail are the solenoid or the starting motor itself. When this occurs, the starting motor will be rendered useless and needs to be replaced.

Common Symptoms You May Notice When Trying To Start Your Engine.

Engine Will Not Turn Over

The most common problem with a starting motor is when you turn your key and nothing happens. This is often caused by the solenoid or motor that has burnt out, or is experiencing an electrical issue. However, this problem may be caused by a dead battery as well. It may appear that you have power to your starting system, but the engine will not turn over.  This can be misleading as a lot of battery power is required to crank your engine over.  9 out of 10 engines with starting problems during winter months are battery related.

Starting Motor Engages But Doesn’t Spin The Engine

There are times when you’ll turn the key and hear the starter activate but it will not crank over. Issues with starting motors are sometimes mechanical in nature. In this case, the problem may be due to the gears that are connected to the flywheel. Either the gear has stripped or has become dislodged against the flywheel.

Grinding Noise When Trying To Start The Engine

Damaged Ring Gear
Damaged Ring Gear

This warning sign often occurs when the gears that connect the starter to the flywheel are worn out.

This is similar to the one that is heard if you start your engine and then accidentally restart it.

However, grinding may also happen inside the starting motor.

In either case, it’s something that can’t be fixed on the engine.

If you notice this symptom, a call to a mechanic is the best logical step.

If this noise continues without being replaced, it can cause damage to the engine’s flywheel.

Smell Or See Smoke When Starting The Engine

The starter is a mechanical system that is powered by electricity. Sometimes the starting motor will overheat because of continued power being supplied to the starter. If this occurs, you’ll most likely see or smell smoke coming from underneath the engine. This problem may be caused by a short circuit or might be due to a problem with the ignition switch.

Starter Soaked With Oil

The starter is often located around the bottom of the engine and is vulnerable to soaking from leaks. An oil-soaked starter likely has a short life remaining. Consider correcting the leak and replacing the starter before a malfunction occurs.

Malfunctioning Starter Solenoid

Starter Solenoid
Starter Solenoid

The solenoid transmits electrical current from the battery to the starting motor.

When you turn the key in your vehicle’s ignition it pushes the starter drive into the flywheel to allow cranking.

Without the solenoid, the starter will not work.

If you turn the key to the crank position and nothing happens, try jiggling the transmission gear shift lever first.

If the engine still will not crank, there might be something wrong with the solenoid.

Engine Freewheeling

Freewheeling occurs when you crank the engine and simply hear a whining noise without the engine cranking. When this occurs, it means the starter is not engaging with the flywheel. This is a worrying situation which could result in having to replace the whole component.

Intermittent Issues Starting The Engine

Starter Relay
Starter Relay

If you try to start your engine and the engine doesn’t start instantly, you may have to try again.

If it works the second time it is most likely due to a problem with the relay.

The relay is an all or nothing device, meaning that it either sends the full electrical current or nothing.

In some occasions, a damaged relay can cause a clicking sound when you turn the key.

Starter Stays Running After The Engine Started

When you start the engine and release the key the circuit will discontinue the power to the starting motor. If this stays on after the engine has started, the main contacts in the solenoid have most likely failed. If this problem is not addressed immediately, the relay will be stuck in the ‘on’ position. This will ultimately cause serious damage to the whole starting system and the transmission flywheel.

Conclusion

Problems with the starting motor are virtually impossible to avoid. Consequently, There really isn’t a predetermined or recommended replacement by the automotive manufacturer.

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About Danny Bender 175 Articles
I have been into cars for as long as I can remember but the engine is what interested me the most. Now with over 40 years in the engine rebuilding and machine shop industry I have retired. I will be spending my time sharing what I have learned while keeping up with the latest Technology - Helping Solve Engine Problems !

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